The long wait we have to endure after the college basketball season ends felt even more drawn-out this year, thanks to the incredible National Championship game we were treated to in April. But, it’s finally here.
Entering the season, the Duke Blue Devils were the clear odds-on favorite to win their second National Championship in the last three seasons. But how has an early loss to Kansas affected their odds? Has Kentucky’s new group of freshman done enough to prove they can win their first title since 2012? Should we write Michigan State off? I may not have concrete answers to those questions, but I can at least provide you with some odds.
With a few weeks of basketball in the books, here is how the early results have changed the outlook on the 2016-17 NCAA basketball season. (Current odds are listed first, then preseason odds in brackets.)
In spite of an early loss to Kansas and their subsequent plummet in the rankings, the Blue Devils remain the on favorites to cut the mesh in April. However, their odds did get a touch longer, and that’s not strictly due to their two-point defeat.
The reason behind their slightly longer odds is the uncertainty surrounding freshman phenom Harry Giles. The 6’10” forward has already had to deal with tearing both ACLs, an MCL, and meniscus. Giles then had another procedure on the same knee he injured in October, and has now exceeded the projected six-week timetable for return.
There is some fear that Giles may never suit up for the Blue Devils, instead prioritizing his future and getting paid before stepping on the court again. That does not seem to be the sentiment of Giles, however, as the top-ranked recruit has voiced his desire to play for Duke.
While we are on the topic of injuries, it should be noted that Coach K’s squad has not only been without Giles to start the season, but also fellow coveted freshman Marques Bolden and Jayson Tatum. Both of these players were expected to play major roles for the Blue Devils this season, and will do so when they make their respective returns.
The fact that Duke was able to play with Kansas sans their freshman trio should strike fear into the rest of the NCAA. Already a deep and very talented team, Duke will be loaded when Bolden and Tatum take the floor, and their loss to the Jayhawks will be forgotten.
As has been the case in Kentucky for the previous few seasons, the Wildcats were going to be a very young team that relied upon major contributions from their freshman class. While the idea of that may be scary to some, when those freshman are De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, and Edrice Adebayo there is no reason to fear. The former two are currently averaging more than 15 points per game, while the latter is averaging more than six rebounds and almost two blocks per game.
Coach Calipari knew he would need some veteran leadership in the group, though, and he has received exactly that from a couple of his Wildcats. Sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe has led the way offensively, averaging 18 points per game while shooting 51.9-percent from the field. On top of that, the old-man of the team, Derek Willis, is logging almost 20-minutes per game and chipping in on both ends of the floor.
The Wildcats made a major statement when they pounded the then no. 13 Michigan State 69-48 earlier in November, but I’m reluctant to call them the odds-on favorites. But their odds do remain very similar to what they were to open the season. The biggest concern with Kentucky right now is whether their youngsters can handle the pressure that comes with the big dance, and more so their lack of three-point shooting. The Wildcats are currently shooting 28.4-percent from behind the arc, and will need someone other than Malik Monk to start knocking them back.
After losing the National Championship game in heartbreaking fashion, it was believed that the Tar Heels had lost too many players to truly contend again in 2016-17. However, UNC has breezed through the first month of the season. Their smallest margin of victory has been 15 points, which came against no. 16 Wisconsin. (And Hawaii.)
Unlike the two teams above them, the Tar Heels are not relying upon the contributions of many freshman. Instead it has been a handful of juniors and seniors leading the group. Senior forward Kennedy Meeks is averaging just over 13 points and ten boards per game, while junior guard Joel Berry II has been deadly from beyond the arc, shooting 47.1-percent and averaging more than 17 points per game.
The Tar Heels have five players who are averaging double-digit point totals per game, and are shooting 51.9-percent from the field as a team. The experience and depth UNC possesses makes them a very dangerous team. We’ll see just how dangerous in their upcoming games against Indiana and Kentucky. Already seeing their odds get noticeably shorter, wins over those two teams could catapult them above their ACC foe.
The Jayhawks were in need of two things to contend this year: Senior guard Frank Mason III needed to provide veteran leadership on both ends of the floor, and freshman guard Josh Jackson needed to prove he was one of the top two recruits in a loaded freshman class.
Through five games, Mason III is averaging over 21 points, five assists, and 1.6 steals per game; and Jackson is averaging 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. The latter of the two struggled in his first game of the season, and it was a major factor in their loss to currently third-ranked Indiana (recent loss will bump them down). Since then, Jackson has been asserting his dominance on both ends of the floor, and displaying an incredible level of athleticism.
As great as these two players may be, the Jayhawks lack depth and don’t possess the talented bigs of the aforementioned teams. But, if Mason III and Jackson get hot in March, they have the talent to carry this team through.
The losses of Michael Gbinije and Malachi Richardson were believed to be too much for the Orange to overcome, but Andrew White III and Tyler Roberson have filled the void, thus far. ‘Cuse hasn’t really been tested yet, but they’ve taken care of business in the games they have played. As a result they’ve seen their odds shrink significantly from the 50/1 they were going at before the season began.
Finding odds for the Bluejays prior to the season was a feat in itself. But after five straight wins to open the season, including a 12 point victory over the then no. 9 Wisconsin Badgers, and an electric trio of guards (Marcus Foster, Khyri Thomas, and Maurice Watson Jr.), Creighton finds themselves on the verge of being ranked in the top ten.
In spite of Miles Bridges making an early case for player of the year, he just doesn’t have enough around him. All three of the Spartans losses have come to ranked teams, but they were easily handled by both Kentucky and no. 20 Baylor. It doesn’t get any easier for MSU, as their next game comes against Duke. The Spartans entered the season just outside of the top ten, but now see their odds getting dramatically longer.
Another Big Ten team is not living up to their preseason hype. Entering the season, the Badgers were returning basically every contributor from last year’s team that went to the Sweet Sixteen. But they have now been beaten handily by both ranked teams they have played, and their odds are taking a hit as a result.
(Photo Credit: adamglanzman (flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
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